I’m writing these lines in beautifully obsolete and decrepit Havana….So glad to leave it although its charm and sadness will be in my heart forever.
Although I know some people who’ve travelled far more than I have, I take a special pride in loving to meet the people I meet during my trips.
I even made a point this past sabbatical to favour quality and time over quantity of places I visited:
1)Alaska and the amazing Iditarod
2)Austria (my Vienna relatives)
3)Brazil (São Paulo, Manaus, Brasilia, Iguaçu, Minas Gerais with Ouro Preto, Mariana and Congoñes) and unforgettably forgetful Rio!),
4) Burma during a Golden Triangle exceptionally short visit),
5) California, with my experience in the Norco Prison and the disastrous IDDay )
6) Cambodia with the memorable and moving goodbye to a great king and Siem Reap for an encounter with past Angkor beauty),
7) Canada with a visit to my other City, Montreal and to the amazing Saint Laurent Delta
8) Corsica… At last! A first but certainly not last visit !
9) Cuba… of course,
10) France (Paris of course… And Marseille, the Blue Coast, French Britanny from Houat and Vannes and Nantes and Angers, to Ile d’Yeu and La Rochelle, Oppio and Sanary in as many trips)
11) Germany (Berlin and my sociolinguist friends as well as some of my best friends),
12) Ireland which seems to have become another home for me
13) Italy (Venice and Murano during the exciting Voga Longa),
14) Laos (enchanting Luang Prabang and friendly Vientiane with my wonderful friend Michel),
15) New York my other city,
16) The emerging Disunited cities of Palestine
17) Slovakia and the surprising Bratislava which is largely and unfairly overlooked,
18) Spain with two enchanting weeks on two different occasions to Barcelona which after many years of quick visits I’m finally getting to know!)
19) Switzerland shouldn’t count since it’s home for me, but thanks to the visit of my Tunisian friend and colleague Raoudha, I escaped to charming Fribourg for a sociolinguistics encounter with my knowledgeable and hard-working friend Claudine Brohy! I also discovered that 20 km away from Geneva I could experience the authentic Switzerland in an amazing way, walking 8km (return) into the woods at night under the moon for a well deserved and quickly digested Fondue
20) Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai and Nongkai region, Phon Pisai with my beloved Nadee School in the rice paddies and the industrious and academic Khon Kien which restored my city appetite!),
21) Vietnam (busy Hanoi, charming Halong Bay and modern Saigon (…sorry Ho Chi Minh City…but Saigon for me and its colonial splendor ) and the Mekong Delta traditions,
…in a way, Cuba combines the Thai heat and rice paddies, some of Brazil musicality and saudade and surprisingly some Israeli modern Sovietic architecture. Misery and poverty however were striking to me. Much less than in Burma of course, yet poignant to the point of making my trip uncomfortable!
In Cuba, meeting people proved almost impossible. It’s partly my fault as I was traveling with my son and gave the priority to his wishes (American cars and cigars!).
However even though I could meet some “real” people, I felt a divide.
Having the two currency system of the Pesos convertible and the local Pesos, the fact that a meal in some places costs a yearly average salary and that beggars and traffickers are rapidly multiplying make this country the mix of all extremes: beauty and dilapidation, charm and profit, tourism and remains of authenticity, immensity of the territory, scarcity of the population outside Habana…
I still can’t tell whether I like it or not. I’m writing this at the terrace of the Telegraph hotel, one of the places I felt the most comfortable on havana, happy to fly home in a couple of hours, still wondering what, apart from love for Cubans, has made so many of my friends consider this Island as Paradise. In any case, although at time charming it’s for sure not my idea of Paradise…
What I did appreciate however is the way I was cut almost totally from the internet to the point that I was able to experience time passing slowly, food for thought!
As a cosmopolitan, I should delight at the mix of people and origins. Creoles, Africans, Europeans… I should also welcome the total absence of advertising of any kind (that is… Except omnipresent political propaganda, see the photos below).
I should… And in a way I do, but I can’t help thinking there’s nothing better than a liberal society, as unfair and imperfect as it is.
PS. More photos will be posted here shortly